Long before the movie Avatar existed, members of the Zulu Tribe in Africa have greeted each other with the word Sawubona which means “I see you.”

Inherent in the Zulu greeting…is the sense that until you saw me, I didn’t exist. By recognizing me, you brought me into existence. ~ Peter de Jager

Yesterday I posted three pictures I took of a smiling mom in rural North Georgia who was mowing her lawn on a riding mower while she was lovingly holding her sleeping baby girl in one arm and simultaneously shielding her from the sun with a golf umbrella.

I thought she was beautiful, and clever, and cool as hell. And seeing her doing her thing last Saturday truly brought me and my husband joy.

She saw me taking her picture and she smiled and waved at us…a big heartwarming smile that said to me “Thank you. Thank you for seeing me. Thank you for noticing that I am getting shit done around here even though I’m clearly on my own.” (today? this week? until his tour of duty ends? forever?)

Surprisingly to me, about half of my commenters (here and on Facebook) shared very strong opinions about this young mama and her parenting. They felt she was endangering her baby’s life.

And while I respect different opinions, and treasure the community we’ve built here, I feel a little blindsided by the negative response about those photos. It was meant to be a feel-good post, a celebration of life, not a hotbed of controversy.

Obviously, I am a big fan of safety. I wouldn’t have written thisthisthis, this, or this if that wasn’t the case. But honestly, the thought never even crossed my mind that her baby was in any danger whatsoever.

I only saw that Multitasking Mama for someone who was just being herself and doing her best, and I think she appreciated it.

Have you ever felt invisible?

I have.

Shoot, I have been run into with enough shopping carts in my lifetime and greeted so frequently with a “nice to meet you” by people I have met multiple times that I know how shitty it feels. And if that happens on a daily basis to a loudmouth like me, imagine for just a second what it might be like to live on a small farm in the backwoods of Georgia where you’re on your own to the point of having to mow your lawn while you hold your sleeping baby? I am pretty damn sure that if she had any other option, she would have taken it.

Have you ever had a stranger stop in her tracks, smile at you as wide as the moon, and take your photo?

I have not. Ever. I have to bribe Bucket Head with Skittles when I need a picture of me taken and it usually turns out like this:

a blurry photo by bucket head of leslie in the wine aisle

But I imagine that if someone ever did approach me with such pure intentions and take my photo while I was going about my day, I would be forever touched and boosted by the experience.

I can’t stop thinking about that mom. We actually connected, eye to eye, that day I took her picture. It was one of those rare moments in life when strangers truly see each other and become friends, even without words.

I did not ask that woman’s permission to take her photo. Nor did I ask her permission to blog about her. But I also never imagined that anyone would ever respond so negatively to something that inspired me so.

I guess that’s the double edged sword that is the Internet. One minute you are floating in a beautiful pool surrounded by friends, and the next minute you discover a turd bobbing a few inches from your face.

On the plus side though, one of my Facebook friends was able to cut through the feeding frenzy and give me some great advice:

I would suggest that maybe, since this is drawing so much criticism, you should take the post and pics down. I know I would feel like giant ass if a bunch of anonymous interwebs people were judging me, esp when it wasn’t me who put my picture on the web. Sorry Iris, I loved the post and the pics, but it would break my heart if this woman saw things that people were writing.

Thank you, wise Ruby. I needed that.

I cannot imagine a more humiliating fate than finding out that a picture I thought was taken out of love was actually being ripped apart and judged on the Internet, particularly by people who don’t know a thing about me or my situation.

That was never my intention.

So I heeded Ruby’s sage advice and unpublished the controversial post out of respect to that North Georgia Mama. It was the right thing to do.

Several of you have asked me if I’m still planning on taking copies of those photos to her. Yes, I am. I think she’d appreciate being able to look back on those pictures someday and remember what a spitfire she was and how she survived those hard early years of motherhood (with a nicely mowed lawn to boot).

As for me, I’d like to turn the page and chalk this up as a good blogging lesson and an opportunity to grow as a writer and a citizen of the unpredictable World Wide Web.

But I will leave you with this: I’ve been reading a lot of really inspiring blog posts lately about the power of being positive and putting more good out into the world. Scientists have found that you can actually retrain your brain to be happier and more productive! And one of the ways you can do that is by purposefully looking for the good in others and being open to beauty and laughter, even in the most surprising of places.

That’s hard to do when your native language is sarcasm, but I’m trying, dammit.

So I will continue to look for beauty and humor.  

I do hope you’ll join me.

And if not, please don’t poop in my swimming pool. That’s just nasty.


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